Carmen Smokes Up The Met! – Part III

Dear Readers:

Continuing with my review of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD production of Carmen – which I watched in a movie theater on Saturday February 2.  This particular movie theater is quite shabby and rundown, but the IMAX sound quality is good, and they also make good hot dogs!

As discussed before, the “Carmen” libretto is, frankly, ludicrous; and yet the opera is still a great classic.  Because of the music, the characters, and the emotions.  From the very first bars of the Overture, conducted here with great panache by Louis Langrée, as the music opens with the “Bullfight” tune, you know you are in for a thrilling ride.

From Little Bird To Big Bullfighter

And speaking of bullfighting:  Next to Carmen’s Habanera song, probably the most familiar (and hummable) tune is Escamillo’s Toreador song.  I mentioned before that the singer gets no warm-up and has to make one of the greatest entrances ever:  Like an idolized rock star surrounded by groupies and Entourage, he just strides into the crowded gypsy tavern and launches right into his famous signature song with the words:  “I make a toast to you!”

Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre,
Senor, senors car avec les soldats
Oui, les Toreros, peuvent s’entendre;
Pour plaisirs, pour plaisirs,
Ils ont les combats!
Le cirque est plein,
c’est jour de fete!
Le cirque est plein du haut en bas;
Les spectateurs, perdant la tete,
Les spectateurs s’interpellent
a grand fracas!
Apostrophes, cris et tapage
Pousses jusques a la fureur!
Car c’est la fete du courage!
C’est la fete des gens de coeur!
Allons! en garde! Allons! Allons! ah!
Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde,
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde,
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
Tout d’un coup, on fait silence…
Ah! que se passe-t-il?
Plus de cris, c’est l’instant!
Plus de cris, c’est l’instant!
le taureau s’elance
En bondissant hors du Toril!
Il s’elance! Il entre,
Il frappe! un cheval roule,
Entrainant un Picador,
Ah! bravo! Toro! Hurle la foule!
Le taureau va, il vient,
il vient et frappe encore!
En secouant ses banderilles,
Plein de fureur, il court!
Le cirque est plein de sang!
On se sauve, on franchit les grilles!
C’et ton tour maintenant! allons!
En garde! allons! allons! Ah!
Toreador, en garde! Toreador, Toreador!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde,
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
L’amour! L’amour! L’amour!
Toreador, Toreador, L’amour t’attend!
Your toast, I can give it to you
Sirs, sirs, for along with the soldiers
Yes, the Toreros, can understand;
For pleasures, for pleasures
They have combats!
The arena is full,
it is the feast day!
The arena is full, from top to bottom;
The spectators are losing their minds,
The spectators began a big fracas!
Apostrophes, cries, and uproar grow to a furor!
Because it is a celebration of courage!
It is the celebration of people with heart!
Let’s go, en guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah!
Toreador, en guard! Toreador, Toreador!
And dream away, yes, dream in combat,
That a black eye is watching you,
And that love awaits you,
Toreador, love awaits you!
And dream away, yes dream in combat,
That a black eye is watching you
And may love await you,
Toreador, love await you!
All of a sudden, it is silent…
Ah, what is happening?
More cries! It is the moment!
More cries! It is the moment!
The bull throws himself out
Bounding out of the bullpin!
He throws himself out! He enters.
He strikes! A horse rolls,
Dragging a picador,
Ah, Bravo! Bull! The crowd roars!
The bull goes, he comes,
He comes and strikes again!
Shaking his dart-stabbed neck,
Full of fury, he runs!
The arena is full of blood!
They save themselves, they pass the gates
It is your turn now. Let’s go!
En guard! Let’s go! Let’s go! Ah!
Toreador, en guard! Toreador, Toreador!
And dream away, yes, dream in combat,
That a black eye is watching you,
And that love awaits you,
Toreador, Love awaits you!
And dream away, yes, dream in combat,
That a black eye is looking at you
And that love awaits you
Toreador, love awaits you!
And dream away, yes, dream in combat,
That a black eye is looking at you
And that love awaits you
And that love awaits you.
Toreador, love awaits you!
Love! Love! Love!
Toreador, Toreador, love awaits you!

Russian bass-baritone Alexander Vinogradov acquitted himself well.  This Moscow native has a rich deep voice belied by his trim body and non-barrel chest.  Russian singers often get these baritone roles.  Why?  Because Russia seems to produce a lot of baritones.  Maybe something in the borsht!

In a backstage interview, Live in HD hostess Ailyn Pérez asked “Sasha” at what point in his childhood, did he know that he was going to be a bass.  He replied in perfect English:  “When my voice changed.”  Pressing the issue she asked him what advice he could give to future baritones.  He replied:  “Be patient.  Wait.”

Vinogradov went on to recount how he had attended bullfights, in Spain, before they were banned, and had acquired an admiration for the skill of “some of” the matadors.  “It really is a life or death thing at times.”  Vinogradov’s travels and his fluency in several languages, is a reminder, once again, just how educated and cosmopolitan these world-class opera singers are!  They are not simply a collection of chests and larynxes.  These people study for decades, they study voice, music, languages, culture, history; they are among the most highly educated people on the planet.

What Is This Thing Called, Love?

In this production of “Carmen”, Escamillo is shown always surrounded by people, including the current girlfriend (played silently by a supernumerary).  But this doesn’t stop all the girls from throwing themselves at the idol in the competition to be his next.  Only Carmen holds back (a little), although she is clearly intrigued.  And there is a rather clever symmetry here:  In Act I Don José ignored Carmen when all the other men in the plaza were trying to grab her ass.  This intrigued Carmen, she set out to tease “the shy one”, inadvertently igniting an obsessive flame of passion in this lowly Corporal.  Her token was a flower that she casually tossed at him.  Had she known then that he would obsessively keep the flower long after its due date, and end up murdering her in cold blood, she would not have bothered with the posy.  Since “Love is a rebellious bird,” etc etc.

Symmetrically:  In the gypsy tavern all the girls are throwing themselves at Escamillo, but only Carmen holds back (somewhat).  Even after Escamillo approaches her directly, rose in hand (=flower-power symmetry) and gives her to know, that he would be interested in making her his next.  Carmen informs him, shyly, that she already has a boyfriend (sort of).  Don José is still cooling his heels in the town jail, and Carmen is waiting for him to get out so that she can explore this new relationship, which they have not yet had time to consummate.

One artist’s portrayal of the Carmen-Escamillo relationship

In rebuffing Escamillo, Carmen seems to have excited the flame in him all the more.  But in this case, a healthier, more realistic flame, without the violent obsessiveness that leads to stalking and murder.  How do we know that Escamillo is so intrigued with Carmen?  Because he shows up again in Act III, risking his life to find her in the smugglers lair.  By that time she is done with Don José, and ready to move on to her next.  Perfect!  And in Act IV we see a radiantly happy Carmen in her new role as the Toreador’s girlfriend.  And they sing a brief love duet, of sorts:  Escamillo professes his love for Carmen; and she responds that she has never loved a man more than she loves him.  Who knows?  Maybe this actually is real love, and Carmen has an actual chance at happiness here.  I, for one am “shipping” these two crazy kids.

Music critics have pointed out that the two leads, Carmen and Don José, never actually sing a love duet.  And why should they, since their relationship has nothing to do with  real love?  It is simply Don José’s obsessive need for love.  Every interaction between Carmen and Don José is contentious.  They quarrel, they bait, they berate, they accuse, he threatens, she belittles, there is no love there, nor real affection.  After Don José sings his show-stopping “flower song” aria to her, ending with a passionate:  “I love you, Carmen!” she merely (after pregnant pause), retorts with:  “No, you don’t love me.”

Next:  The Flower Song and the issue of the Wedding Ring

[to be continued]

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